Dispensationalism 101: Part 2 - Covenental Thought

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From Dispensational Publishing House; used with permission.

Last time, we began this series by considering the difference between dispensational and covenantal theology. We thought about some basic things that we must understand in order to deal properly with that issue. We begin this article with a brief review.

Covenantalism in a Nutshell

The terms covenantal and Reformed are often used interchangeably. There are dispensationalists who speak of being Reformed, yet the way they use the term Reformed is in respect to salvation, referring to the doctrines of grace. Another might refer to himself as a Calvinist-dispensationalist, but this is a rather awkward phrase, since Calvinism is typically used in the discipline of soteriology, not eschatology. This designation would be used to refer to men like John MacArthur and faculty from his school, The Master’s University,1 and others who have embraced the doctrines of grace and who apply a consistently literal hermeneutic, especially in the prophets, while not reading Jesus into every Old Testament verse or giving the New Testament priority.2

When trying to define a system and associate certain teachers with it, there are nuances that make such a feat difficult. For example, James Montgomery Boice was pretribulational3 and premillennial4, yet he also practiced paedobaptism.5 Not all covenantalists are amillennial6 or postmillennial. And not all premillennialists are dispensationalists (e.g., Boice and George Eldon Ladd).

Covenants

In covenantal thought, covenants are the interpretive framework through which to read Scripture. They say the covenants are the theological structure by which the Bible organizes itself. The contention of this author is that though there are several covenants in Scripture (Noahic, Abrahamic, New Covenant, etc.), the covenants that covenantalists build this system around are not explicitly found in Scripture. The first extrabiblical covenant (no malice in saying this) that this system is based on is the covenant of law (or works7). They lodge support from such passages as Deuteronomy 30:15-20. This is the agreement between God and Adam where God promised life for perfect obedience.8

The other covenant (besides those agreed upon by dispensationalists) that they rely on is the covenant of grace (referring to the gospel).9 In this covenant there is agreement between the offended God and the offending sinner. According to Michael Horton in Pilgrim Theology, such a sinner has been “forgiven, justified, and renewed solely on the basis of Christ’s person and work.”10 Unfortunately, to his chagrin, Horton also says, “These covenants are not always explicitly visible.”11

Paedobaptism

A third element of covenantalism, alongside the two covenants, is the water baptism of infants, also called paedobaptism. The esteemed covenant theologian Louis Berkhof, says, “It is on the point of infant baptism that the most important difference is found between us and the Baptists.”12 He even admits at the outset that there is no explicit biblical command nor any single instance in the Bible in which we are told that children were baptized. Covenantalists see baptism as a sign and seal that replaces Old Testament circumcision. There are many fine presentations that refute paedobaptism, however.13

The Church, the New Israel

A fourth view that is espoused by covenant theology is that the church is the fulfillment of new covenant prophecy. This is woven into the covenant of redemption.14 For this they see one people of God—not the unique mystery of the church that is revealed by the Paul, the “apostle of Gentiles” (Rom. 11:13; cf. Eph. 3). In order to arrive at this conclusion, they see absolute continuity of believers before and after Pentecost rather than the dispensational view of more discontinuity between the two.

Again, this is a vastly simplified view of covenant theology, but it provides a starting point to show distinctions between it and dispensational thought.

Notes

1 John F. MacArthur, Faith Works (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), p. 225.

2 More of these particulars will be augmented later in the series.

3 Pretribulationism teaches that God will remove His church from the Earth (John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:13-18) before pouring out His righteous wrath on the unbelieving world during seven years of tribulation (Jer. 30:7; Dan. 9:27; 12:1; 2 Thess. 2:7-12; Rev. 16).

4 Premillenialism teaches that Jesus Christ will return to earth and rule with His saints for a thousand years. This is a time where He lifts the curse He placed on the earth and fulfills the promises given to Israel (Isa. 65:17-25; Ezek. 37:21-28; Zech. 8:1-17), including a restoration to the land they forfeited through disobedience (Deut. 28:15-68).

5 Paedobaptism is the practice of baptizing infants or children who are deemed not old enough to verbalize faith in Christ.

6 Amillennialism is the belief that the thousand years referenced by John in Revelation 20 are not a literal, specific time.

7 A brief treatment of the covenant of works is found in R. C. Sproul’s What Is Reformed Theology? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), pp. 111-13.

8 Westminster Confession of Faith, 7.2, in Trinity Hymnalf (Atlanta: Great Commission Publications, 1990), p. 852.

9 Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, pp. 113-16.

10 Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), p. 160.

11 Ibid., p. 60.

12 Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), p. 632.

13 See the baptism class at Biblical Expositor, which presents a Biblical, theological and historical case for believer’s baptism. “Baptism Class,” <http://www.biblicalexpositor.org/site/outlines.asp?sec_id=180007636&secu… Internet; accessed 2 June 2016. Furthermore, professors Henrick Stander and Johannes Louw, recognized authorities in Patristic studies, give irrefutable evidence that paedobaptism was not the practice of the early church. See their work Baptism in the Early Church (England: Reformation Today Trust, 2004).

14 Sproul, What is Reformed Theology?, pp. 114-15.

Parker Reardon bio


Parker Reardon is a graduate of Word of Life Bible Institute, Pensacola Christian College and The Master’s Seminary, where he received a doctorate in expository preaching. He is currently serving as the main teaching elder/pastor at Applegate Community Church in Grants Pass, OR, and as adjunct professor of theology for Liberty University and adjunct professor of Bible and theology for Pacific Bible College.

As others have noted

As many have noted before--but it bears repeating--"covenant theology" is really not aptly named. The problem is not that it uses the covenants as the interpretive grid for all of Scripture. That can actually work quite well. The problem is, as I see it, (a) including covenants that are not really there, (b) giving the not-there covenants a great deal of weight in interpreting what is there, and (c) inadequate rules for when to interpret "literally" and when not to. 

Everybody agrees that use of metaphor and other normal figures of speech has to be properly factored in. That's a pseudo debate that only distracts. The issue is, as Paul Henebury and others have pointed out, an interpretive process/hermeneutic that allows for God to promise things then later fundamentally alter what those promises meant or could reasonably have been understood to mean when they were given.

It's not an emphasis on covenants in general, but commitment to particular ideas about particular covenants ("the covenant of Grace" being the greatest) that distinguishes CT from the alternatives. ... and that leads it to some dramatic and, from my point of view arbitrary, departures from authorial intent or likely audience understanding.

So on that basis, many of us make the claim that Cov Theo is not serious about authorial intent or grammatical historical interp. It might be more fair to say it is serious about these things... except when it isn't.

Except when it isn't

It's funny how the exact same charges can be made by both sides against the other.  One of CT's complaints about DT is that it insists on the most literal interpretation possible, except when that contradicts prior interpretations.  Then, it should be "obvious" that a literal interpretation is not what the author intended.  Obvious to whom?  In other words, everything should be taken literally except when it isn't.  This is especially apparent in the way DT tends to interprets the NT.  Here, CT usually takes the more literal approach, with DT insisting on a more figurative interpretation.  So who is spiritualizing?  Apparently both.  It all boils down to which set of presuppositions one is working with.

I find myself in the peculiar position of defending CT on SI, when actually, many CT's would not consider me CT.  I take exception to several of the CT interpretations that DT also rejects.  However, when deciding which texts have the greatest claim to literal interpretation, surely the straightforward teaching of Christ and the Apostles in the Gospels and Epistles should be given greater weight than OT prophecies replete with symbolism.

G. N. Barkman

Altered Promises

Aaron Blumer wrote:

..............

Everybody agrees that use of metaphor and other normal figures of speech has to be properly factored in. That's a pseudo debate that only distracts. The issue is, as Paul Henebury and others have pointed out, an interpretive process/hermeneutic that allows for God to promise things then later fundamentally alter what those promises meant or could reasonably have been understood to mean when they were given.

......

I would disagree with the bolded statement. From what I understand "fundamentally alter" does not capture the CT interpretive process. God may do more than what was promised. God may do other than what the original audience understood. God's promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended. God will not alter His promises. Yet He is not obligated to fulfill them in the way either DT or CT understand them. 

What remains to be seen is the degree of literality in fulfillment of promises (David as future king, Exek. 37:24; millennial temple and sacrifices, Exek 40-48, and even forever sacrifices, Jer. 33:18; restored national Israel in the land, etc.). What is true is that every ethnic Israelite of all generations past and future partakes of OT promises only by faith in the Promised One, the final sacrifice, true temple, and secure refuge. As for the rest, we may all be surprised. 

 

My very broad outline takes on CT/Dispensationalism

I lean dispensational, but if pressed to answer why, I would have to admit that that bias is highly influenced by my soteriology.  My belief is that the grace of Jesus Christ was and is effectually available to all men throughout all ages.  As such, it is easier to become enamored with theological constructs that promote the revelation and economy of God to all men, and not just a subset.  

That being said, I think the classic Scofield delineation is too extreme and regimented.  I don't think we can say conclusively that God intended the division to be as stark as that is presented.  I furthermore don't see the absolute chronology of dispensations as important.  Rather, the merit I see in dispensationalism is it accommodates the gradual revealing of the glory and personage of Jesus Christ throughout time.  Christ is presented first as a rather vague promise, then presented as an innocent sacrifice and atoner.  Come the new testament, Christ is further revealed as man and God.  We still have ways to go!

The point is, every fresh incremental revealing of Jesus Christ gives man a little different hope and trust and approved interaction with God.  I like the idea of being able to read through Scripture and seeing this revealing made available to all men.  But this is just my bias.

To me, the covenant theology that Parker has described is just a little too rigid, much like the Scofield dispensational delineation.  It just presumes too much outside of Scripture, and is too wooden (rigid, inflexible) in its prescribed interaction between God and man.

The questions that covenant theology seek to answer are, however, quite fascinating.  Every Biblical scholar should seek to answer the who, what, where, when and how of each promise made by God.  This is where our bias in hermeneutics will show up, and show up very clearly!

The benefit I see in covenant theology is that it can help today's church sort through which of God's promises can credibly be claimed and applied to it, and which cannot.  It is with dismay that I say that there is great imprecision and inconsistency in the application of God's promises and commands to the church.

John B. Lee

Could one be both?

Could one be both?

  • For example, I believe in Federal headship. This involves an implied covenant (of works: Obey and live ... rebel and die).  Adam represented all of humanity (seen in Romans 5)
  • Is there not an agreement that if one believes he is saved. That's a covenant (of grace)
  • What kind of inter-Trinitarian agreement was between the Persons? C of Redemption:  in which the Father appointed the Son to become incarnate, suffer, and die as a federal head of mankind to make an atonement for their sin. In return, the Father promised to raise Christ from the dead, glorify him, and give him a people. 

If the essence of Dispensationalism is that the Church ≠ Israel / one could be both CT and Dispy

Baptist Covenant Theology

This post doesn't really interact with Baptist Covenant Theology (aka"1689 Federalism"), which a distinct strand of Cov Theo developed and held by Baptists prior to embracing dispensationalism. (You know there were Baptists before dispensationalism, right? Smile )

Especially important are the point on paedobaptism (obviously not a part of Baptist CT) and the Covenant of Grace which, in Baptist theology, finds much more explicit warrant in Scripture, since the Covenant of Grace in Baptist thought is synonymous with the New Covenant.

Steve wrote

God may do other than what the original audience understood. God's promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended.

Well, that's the trouble isn't it?  If God raised expectations in the OT which He didn't intend to carry through, doesn't that make Him an ambiguous communicator at best (recall Jer. 33:17-26!), and disingenuous at worse?  

What inside line does Steve have that our understanding of God's promises in the NT won't be "other" than what we are led to understand?  And how are we to put faith in the words?  

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Jim, I also hold to Federal

Jim, I also hold to Federal Headship and dispensationalism. I don't believe they are in conflict or that a covenant of works is implied. Never heard that before really.

Trouble with Expectations

Paul Henebury wrote:

God may do other than what the original audience understood. God's promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended.

Well, that's the trouble isn't it?  If God raised expectations in the OT which He didn't intend to carry through, doesn't that make Him an ambiguous communicator at best (recall Jer. 33:17-26!), and disingenuous at worse?  

What inside line does Steve have that our understanding of God's promises in the NT won't be "other" than what we are led to understand?  And how are we to put faith in the words?  

To suggest that someone's position you disagree with makes God disingenuous seems desperate. To imagine that every audience understood God's intentions is naive.  The first disciples of Jesus after three years with Him didn't get it. There's only trouble if one is looking for expectations which weren't the intention of the original author. Did God raise expectations or did the audience? God doesn't carry out everyone's expectations. We know for a fact that the Jews of Jesus day had expectations they read into the prophecies. Jesus overturned them and clarified them as did the apostles. Many in His day were looking for a restored national kingdom. Jesus inaugurated His kingdom according to His Father's will not according to human expectations. As I said, God may do more than what was understood or expected. God's promises to us now may be "other" than what we understand. They may be more. They won't be less. What we understand now we understand in light of the life, ministry, and finished work of Christ which made the old obsolete. The OT promises pointed to Christ the fulfillment. Anyone who thinks their position is a slam dunk on prophecy and the relationship of the OT and the NT needs a good dose of epistemic humility. 

Miscellaneous

It's pretty clear we're not going to change the minds of the committed antidispensationalists in the thread. But for the benefit of any readers who are on the fence...

"To imagine that every audience understood God's intentions..."

I don't think anybody is saying this. What's at issue is what a person who understood correctly would have understood. In some cases, CT requires understandings that nobody could possibly have had and that aren't compatible with any of the understandings audiences could have had.

(Further up the thread) "... rife with symbolism"

Where is the symbolism in God's promises to Abraham? ... to Moses? ... to David?

In general, though I have some objections to some views held by some dispensationalists, I'm a disp. by default because I cannot accept that the OT is supposed to be read as though we got the NT first, then got the OT and must use the NT to decide what the OT means. It isn't that simple... because God's people only had OT for thousands of years. So we have to read the NT as though it is given in the context of the OT--though, yes, it does reveal a great deal more and does change our perspective on much of what came before in various ways. But given how clear the OT promises concerning Israel are, and the fact that nothing in the NT has to be understood in a way that is incompatible with how they would have been understood by lots of people for thousands of years, it's best to let these OT promises stand.

I can't seriously entertain doing otherwise. That doesn't require me to embrace the whole disp. framework of pre trib rapture+7yr trib+1000yr reign+armageddon etc. But it does require me to reject CT.

So, to put it another way, the sine qua non of dispensationalism requires rejecting the sine qua non of CT and vice versa. There really isn't any mix and match option when it comes to the essence of these approaches.

Not an Answer

Steve,

 

You did not answer the question you were asked.  You were given a specific OT example.  Would you care to actually address it?

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Covenant Theology

Covenant with Noah - Genesis 6:18; 9:8-12

Covenant with Abraham - Genesis 12; 15; 17; 22:15-18; 26:3-5; 28:14 et. al.

Covenant at Sinai - Exodus 19:5

Covenant with David - 2 Samuel 7; 1 Chron 17:10 ff

New Covenant - Jeremiah 31:31

Covenant of Works - ?

Covenant of Grace - ?

I would refer you to Paul Williamson's book Sealed with An Oath. This Anglican from Australia concluded there is no basis in Scripture for the latter two covenants.  I would also refer you to A. H. Strong, Systematic Theology, 612 where he discusses the lack of biblical evidence for the Covenant of Works.  

Charles Hodge and Michael Scott Horton are at least two Covenant Theologians who have written that these covenants are not named in Scripture.

Paul Henebury wrote:

Paul Henebury wrote:

God may do other than what the original audience understood. God's promises will be fulfilled exactly in the way He intended.

Well, that's the trouble isn't it?  If God raised expectations in the OT which He didn't intend to carry through, doesn't that make Him an ambiguous communicator at best (recall Jer. 33:17-26!), and disingenuous at worse?  

What inside line does Steve have that our understanding of God's promises in the NT won't be "other" than what we are led to understand?  And how are we to put faith in the words?  

 

But even as Christ was fulfilling the OT, not only did the nation of Israel not clearly see what was happening, but even his own disciples who were with him 24x7 did not fully grasp what was and was not being fulfilled.  Didn't Jesus, make clear in John 16:25, that he said these things in figures of speech.  They were still expecting him to setup the kingdom at this time (Acts 1:6).  They studied, carefully and they still did not understand how Christ's promises and covenants would be fulfilled (1 Peter 1:10-12).

Is not the purpose of prophecy and promises, not that we fully understand them today, but that when they are fulfilled, we can validate them against the Word of God?  There is practically no evidence in the Bible that anyone truly understood the promises at the moment they were given and truly understood how they would be fulfilled or carried out?  Not even the patriarch Abraham at the offering up of his son, when just given the promise understood exactly how it was going to be fulfilled.  Are we as naive to think that we fully understand the promises and covenants and can put together a structure that supports our models and then become so dogmatic about them?

Thank you, dgszweda

That's pretty much what I've been trying to say in this discussion.  Thank you for saying it so well.

G. N. Barkman

Both DT and CT are extaBiblical constructs ...

Both DT and CT are extaBiblical constructs attempting to answer questions about the discontinuity / continuity between the testaments.

Some early DTs failed at this by having two plans of salvation

CTs fails at conflating the church and Israel and spiritualizing the millennium

Which question?

Paul Henebury wrote:

Steve,

You did not answer the question you were asked.  You were given a specific OT example.  Would you care to actually address it?

Sorry Paul. I didn't realize you were looking for a response to a particular question. I doubt I or anyone else could provide an answer that would satisfy those who interpret prophecy like prose narrative. I counted four questions and the first one seemed to reach for high ground in insinuating that your detractors somehow ascribe disingenuity or ambiguity to God. Wasn't your best moment. 

Now I see that you referred to Jeremiah 33:17-26. I leave for a two week teaching trip in Africa tomorrow so I have to allow someone else to stand in for me particularly for verses 17-18.

17 “For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18 and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever.”  

"Read literally, these verses promise the permanent restoration of the Davidic throne and (of the Levitical priesthood. As a matter of fact Zedekiah was the last king of David's line, and the Levitical priest-hood has long passed away. Both these changes Jeremiah himself foretold Jeremiah 22:30; Jeremiah 3:16. In what way then is this apparent contradiction (compare Isaiah 66:20-23; Ezekiel 40-48) to be explained? The solution is probably as follows. It was necessary that the Bible should be intelligible to the people at the time when it was written, and in some degree to the writer. The Davidic kingship and the Levitical priest-hood were symbols, which represented to the Jew all that was most dear to his heart in the state of things under which he lived. Their restoration was the restoration of his national and spiritual life. Neither was so restored as to exist permanently. But that was given instead, of which both were types, the Church, whose Head is the true prophet, priest and King" (Barnes). 

Now one can read them literally as prose narrative and believe that sacrifices will be offered not only in the millennium but also "forever" and that a resurrected David will actually reign (Ezek. 37:24). Or one can read them as prophetic genre with metaphor, hyperbole, etc. and believe that God spoke to Jeremiah with words and concepts intelligible to people of the day which point to the permanence of the kingly and priestly offices promised in covenants which are fulfilled in Christ. Both cannot be right but neither casts aspersion on God's communicative capacity. 

I also appreciate dgszweda's comment. There is an interpretative divide.

Per Aaron - I think maybe "nondispensational" would be preferable to "antidispensationalists." But you are right. I don't think there will be much mind changing although I hope we are all open to having our minds changed even if it means a change of ministry. The benefit will mostly be for those who read and decide for themselves.  

This will probably be my last response on this thread. Thanks to all for feedback and pushback.

 

 

Eschatolgical Experts

Men from Charles Taze Russell through Hal Lindsay and Jack Van Impe have attempted to pass themselves off as eschatological experts and have raised hopes and skeptical eyebrows. I remember "The Beast" computer in Brussels, The European Common Market as the ten toes of the Beast, the Andromeda Effect, etc.

Jesus is coming back and I'm looking forward to the event and those who would declare that their interpretation of His Return and the events surrounding it is absolutely certain aren't going to score 100%  on their Eschatology final exam.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

The Nature of Theological Discussion

Steve (and perhaps others) have taken exception to my question (actually several questions in one as was pointed out), about interpreting the words of God if they are ambiguous - i.e. raise understandable expectations in those OT saints who heard them, only to mean something that those hearers could never have envisaged.

(To Steve).  Brother, you take umbrage because you seem to think I charged you with believing God to be disingenuous.  If you will re-read what I said, you will find no such accusation against you.  This is not a personal issue.  It is the nature of this sort of theological back and forth.  

In one of your comments you wrote: "To imagine that every audience understood God's intentions is naive".

This charge was repeated by dgszweda who said regarding my comment: "Are we as naive to think that we fully understand the promises and covenants and can put together a structure that supports our models and then become so dogmatic about them?"

Were you calling me naive?  Am I not only naive but also arrogant enough to think that I "fully understand" these matters so as to be "dogmatic about them?"

I didn't take it that way.  I understood you (and him) to be making a point forcefully.  I take it neither of you were attacking me?  So can we dial it down a bit?  We disagree, but I have not insinuated anything.  I asked questions of your opinion as a theologian.  I do not believe you or dgszeda or brother Barkman believe God is disingenuous and I did not say so.

There are other matters which have been raised, not least the understanding of the disciples (which is a double-edged sword for CT's), but I just wanted to say here that I thought I could raise a theological objection (which I'm afraid has still not been joined) and that would be understood as such by someone with a good theological background.  No offense.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Sealed with an Oath: A good book

Williamson's book is one of the best I have read on the covenants.  However, even he holds that there are two Abrahamic covenants!  His objections to a pre-Noahic covenant were challenged by Gentry in Kingdom through Covenant.  However, Gentry couldn't pinpoint any oath before Noah - which is the major contribution of Williamson's work on covenants in my view.   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Steve Davis, see you in Africa?

Africa's a big place, so I probably won't see you, but I leave Wednesday for two weeks of teaching in Africa as well.  I trust all goes well with your labors!  I will miss the good discussion on SI, but after Tuesday, I'll be out of the loop until April 26.

G. N. Barkman

Africa

G. N. Barkman wrote:

Africa's a big place, so I probably won't see you, but I leave Wednesday for two weeks of teaching in Africa as well.  I trust all goes well with your labors!  I will miss the good discussion on SI, but after Tuesday, I'll be out of the loop until April 26.

Yes, Africa is a big place. It's Yaoundé, Cameroon from where one of our elders hails. I'm teaching on Dispensationalism. No really my brother and I are teaching through I Peter at a pastors' conference for which we have a translated student syllabus to provide them with several months of preaching material then holding a retreat on the Last and Final Words of Jesus before and after his resurrection. So if you are there let me know. Apart from some translation work I haven't taught or preached in French since 2008 so we'll see how it goes Smile  God bless in your travels and ministry.   

But even as Christ was

But even as Christ was fulfilling the OT, not only did the nation of Israel not clearly see what was happening, but even his own disciples who were with him 24x7 did not fully grasp what was and was not being fulfilled.

And for this, Jesus condemned them for being foolish and slow of heart to believe all the that prophets had said. In other words, it seems that Jesus thought they should have seen it.

To me the question is this: If we can't understand the OT based on its words, then how can we claim to understand the NT based on its words? On what basis can we have any security in the promises of God if we can't actually know what they are without future revelation? And if we can trust the NT by reading it and understanding its meaning from its "literal-grammatical-historical" exegesis, why can we not do that from the OT by the same means? What changed?

1 Peter 1:10-12 seems to indicate that many were pretty clear on what the OT said. What they didn't know was the person or time. So they weren't confused about suffering or glory to follow, about the Messiah, the kingdom, etc. It seems that what they didn't know was which baby born at which time was the one. 

Steve and Larry

Steve, I will be in Zimbabwe teaching I John at a pastors' conference.  I've done this every year for six or seven years now.  Love it!  I have my 40 page syllabus ready, and yes, like you, the men will use this material to preach in their own churches for many months to come.

Larry, the difference is that the New Testament is God's final revelation.  There is no more.  If we can't accept the divinely inspired OT interpretation given to us in the NT we're on our own.  I'd rather be guided by infallible interpreters. 

G. N. Barkman

Larry, the difference is that

Larry, the difference is that the New Testament is God's final revelation.  There is no more.  If we can't accept the divinely inspired OT interpretation given to us in the NT we're on our own.  I'd rather be guided by infallible interpreters. 

I don't agree with either proposition. I think the NT is God's final revelation for the church age, but I think there will be more in the kingdom. Remember we now know it part but then in full. I don't think we are on our own. We have the text. That, by definition, means we are not on our own. 

But that returns me to two questions:

  1. Why are you confident you can exegete the NT but not the OT? When did the process of exegesis change? I am not trying to be snarky with that at all. I am genuinely curious becuase it seems you are confident in your NT interpretation, but not in your OT interpretation. 
  2. What do you do with OT passages (the vast, vast majority) that the NT doesn't interpret? 

 

Brother Barkman states to

Brother Barkman states to Larry,

the difference is that the New Testament is God's final revelation

And how can you be so dogmatic about it?  The OT was God's final [written] revelation until the NT.  There was no heads-up that the NT would be written.  What I think Larry is trying to point you towards is the question of how you know your interpretation of the NT won't be "other than what the original audience [including you] understood."?  You and Steve want us to find our answers in the NT which you think gives you permission to "expand" the OT prophecies in a way that no OT saint could have understood from the words God employed.  But Larry is calling your attention to the fact that your reinterpretation of the OT along the lines indicated by yourself and Steve undermines any static meaning of the words God used in the NT.

He is asking you to examine a possible problem with your reasoning.

 

"   

Dr. Paul Henebury

I am Founder/ President of Telos Theological Ministries, and teach at

Larry wrote:

Larry wrote:

...

To me the question is this: If we can't understand the OT based on its words, then how can we claim to understand the NT based on its words? On what basis can we have any security in the promises of God if we can't actually know what they are without future revelation? And if we can trust the NT by reading it and understanding its meaning from its "literal-grammatical-historical" exegesis, why can we not do that from the OT by the same means? What changed?

1 Peter 1:10-12 seems to indicate that many were pretty clear on what the OT said. What they didn't know was the person or time. So they weren't confused about suffering or glory to follow, about the Messiah, the kingdom, etc. It seems that what they didn't know was which baby born at which time was the one. 

In furtherance of the application of a plain, literal hermeneutic and the grammatical-historical method to the Old Testament, let me ask if you agree with the following statements:

  1. God spoke directly to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
  2. Genesis is not an exhaustive account of all that God revealed to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
  3. Genesis was not written to Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
  4. Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had been dead hundreds of years before Genesis was written.

JSB

The only slight reservation I

The only slight reservation I would have, really a mere technicality, is that I don't recall explicit statements that God spoke directly to Enoch or Joseph. I presume he did, but I don't recall the statement of it.

Larry wrote:

Larry wrote:

The only slight reservation I would have, really a mere technicality, is that I don't recall explicit statements that God spoke directly to Enoch or Joseph. I presume he did, but I don't recall the statement of it.

I respect the reservation. Although I too believe that it is a reasonable presumption, let me ask if you agree with this modified statement, "God revealed Himself directly and supernaturally to Enoch and Joseph (particularly in light of Enoch prophesying as well as walking so closely with God that he was not, and Joseph dreaming dreams and being given the infallible interpretation of dreams).

Also, do you agree with the following statements (and I promise this will not go on forever (however you want to define "forever")):

5. God spoke directly to Moses.
6. Moses wrote all of the Pentateuch (except for perhaps the very last part of Deuteronomy).
7. The Pentateuch is not an exhaustive account of all that God revealed to Moses.
8. Moses wrote the Pentateuch hundreds of years after Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph had died.
9. Moses was not personally acquainted with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
10. Moses was not an eyewitness to the lives of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.

JSB

Not to lawyer this out too

Not to lawyer this out too much, but I believe Moses likely used sources in the Pentateuch for some things but he is the author of it. 7 I have no way of knowing, but again I would presume not. The rest of it, yes.

(The reason I offer the caveats is because I am not sure where you are going with this.)

Expected the Kingdom

"Is not the purpose of prophecy and promises, not that we fully understand them today, but that when they are fulfilled, we can validate them against the Word of God?  There is practically no evidence in the Bible that anyone truly understood the promises at the moment they were given and truly understood how they would be fulfilled or carried out?"

This actually argues the other way. The expectations of the disciples reveal how they understood the OT promises. And they were really only wrong about the timing. Likewise, in Acts 1, Jesus does not tell them, "Hey the kingdom is not going to be anything like you've thinking." Rather, He says 

Ac 1:7 7 And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.

The expectations of the disciples are evidence of how God intended His promises to be understood. (And though, yes, there were misunderstandings about the nature of the kingdom in some as well, an actual reign over actual land by a Davidic heir, etc. was not among them.)

I don't know where this idea that prophecy should only be clear after the fact comes from... where are we told this? To be sure, there are fulfillment specifics that are not expected in some cases. But not in others. 

So which part of, say God's promises to Abraham/prophecies, do you think he didn't understand?

  • He would father a great nation?
  • All the world would be blessed through him?
  • Your descendants will possess "this land"?

Which part of God's promises through Moses do you think the people didn't understand?

  • Obey and you'll be greatly blessed?
  • Disobey and you'll be cursed?

I could go on with Noah, David, etc. 

The point here is that God always speaks with the intent that the audience will understand something, and usually they are expected to understand most of what He has said. (And Israel having no future ethnic identity and possessing the lad is not exactly a minor detail). Many of the cases where they didn't understand, it was obvious they were not expected to: for example, the tabernacle/worship symbolism is explained nowhere in the Mosaic Covenant. It is just there, and obviously very intentional. What that screamed to everyone paying attention was: There is much here you don't know yet and will be revealed in the future.

But there is none of that in the "promises."

As for Jesus speaking in parables, this again is an argument for non-CT.

Lk 8:10–11 10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand. 11 Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God.

The believing are supposed to understand. The hardened are not. This is the order of things in OT and NT. What is not understood is simply the parts that are not yet revealed. But what is revealed is supposed to be understood by the believing faithful.

Expected to Understand

The point here is that God always speaks with the intent that the audience will understand something, and usually they are expected to understand most of what He has said. 

I resonate with what you are saying here, Aaron. Thanks for sharing this.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

Larry, sorry to leave you hanging last night

Sleep and then the Christian Sabbath (or the Lord's Day or Sunday as you prefer) overtook me. I should have "signed out" until Monday.

I am trying to establish an agreed historical context for Biblical revelation that hopefully serve as a framework for further discussion. I have made assertions and identified assertions but I need to move to substantive arguments and appreciate your humoring me in this.

In this vein, I am glad for your "lawyering" and testing my statements to ensure that we have in fact found common ground on certain particulars.

I do not deny that Moses may have used sources in writing the Pentateuch but these sources would not have been authoritative, inerrant, infallible, and inspired unless incorporated and re-written by Moses into the Pentateuch.

In furtherance of this thought, I offer two more statements for your consideration:

11. Moses only knew with certainty (with certainty sufficient to record as Scripture) about Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and the events of their lives because of what God directly revealed to Moses.
12. Moses only knew with certainty about Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and the events of their lives because of subsequent revelation, revelation imparted to him hundreds of years after the fact, by God.

I will pick this up again tomorrow evening to address your caveat about No. 7.

Thanks,

JSB

Additional statements

Additional statements:

13. The only authoritative source for Moses in writing Genesis was God.
14. God was personally acquainted with Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
15. God was an eyewitness to the lives of Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.  m
16. God is the ultimate (and only authoritative) source and author of the Old Testament.
17. God is the ultimate (and only authoritative) source and author of the New Testament.
18. The New Testament is as authoritative a source about Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and the events of their lives as the Old Testament.

JSB

In regard to No. 7, Moses was

In regard to No. 7, Moses was on Mount Sinai alone with God forty days and forty nights. Thereafter, God spoke with Moses in the Tabernacle off and on over an extended period of time. “Thus the LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend.” (Exodus 33:11)(ESV). More likely than not, during the forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai, and thereafter in the Tabernacle, God revealed to Moses much more that what is recorded in Genesis and Exodus. Even if God had dictated Genesis and Exodus to Moses, this would have taken less than forty days and forty nights. Moreover, the Pentateuch is not written "as a man speaks to his friend." Also, Moses spoke to God on more occasions than the forty days and forty nights on Mount Sinai and in the Tabernacle.

In light of statements Nos. 1-18, several conclusions can be drawn. One conclusion is that, what the patriarchs knew and when, cannot be determined merely by reading through Genesis. Genesis was not written to the patriarchs and is not an exhaustive account of what God revealed to them. What the New Testament says of them is just as probative as the Old Testament accounts. God wrote all the accounts. We are not justified is despising our privileged New Testament position and limiting our understanding through speculation of what an Israelite in his tent preparing to enter the "promised land" might have understood concerning the patriarchs.

When Jesus said to the Jews, as recorded in John 8:56, "Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad," we should take this statement at face value and recognize that the day of Christ was revealed to Abraham. Indeed, the gospel was preached beforehand to Abraham. "And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, 'In you shall all the nations be blessed.'" (Galatians 3:8)(ESV). Abraham did not have the Scripture because it had yet to be written.  Yet God revealed the Scripture to him beforehand.

Regardless of what the Israelite in his tent may or may not have known, we know that Abraham "was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God." (Hebrews 11:10)(ESV). The patriarchs, while in the "promised land," desired "a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city." (Hebrews 11:16)(ESV). This is the inheritance, the homeland, they were seeking. To the Israelite in his tent, Moses said, "You have seen all that the LORD did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the LORD has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." (Deuteronomy 29:2-4). Some of them knew but not all. "Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come." (I Corinthians 10:11)(ESV). We know because God has more plainly revealed it to us. 

JSB

I don't think there is

I don't think there is anything particularly controversial about any of that at face value. But I don't think it addresses what I am concerned about. 

First, I don't think this is about what OT people knew and when they knew it. We are not called to preach that. That has not been given to us as an authority. Only the Scripture has. And our preaching must be based on the Scripture. So you could be completely right that they knew more than the text tell us (and I think you are right), and it doesn't make any difference. God, in his wise providence, has not given that to us. So why do we think we should "fill in the gaps" of what God has given us? Is not the Scripture sufficient to make us wise to salvation and to equip us for every good work? Of course it is, as I am sure you would agree. So whatever they might have known outside of Scripture is, more or less, irrelevant since our job is not to preach what they might have known or did know. It is to preach what the Scriptures say, and for that, the is sufficient. 

Second, I agree that we must not despise what the NT says. Where God speaks we have no justification to limit that or deny it. But that's the key. It's revelation. If that is not available to us, and I hope we can agree that it's not, what do we use to interpret? My answer is the text. We are not called to preach our imaginative connections that are concocted in our well-meaning, but uninspired minds, no matter how much we might think it looks like what the NT authors did under inspiration. 

And a caveat is simple: Is the NT revelation regarding a passage an actual interpretation of meaning? Or is it one of the other many uses (analogy, typology, borrowed language, etc.)? Because that matters a lot in how we interpret the OT in light of the NT. If we take borrowed language for instance and try to make it an interpretation of meaning, we are going to read the OT wrong and make it mean something it didn't mean and doesn't mean. So we have to decide that first.

What you don't address and what my concern is is what about when there is no revelation of meaning? Some here and elsewhere (Johnson, Enns) are saying we are to use the apostolic hermeneutic to interpret OT passages, even when (or Johnson says "especially when") the NT doesn't address them. But as I pointed out, we don't really know what they did (see the multiple options) or how they did it. All we know for sure is that they were inspired and we are not. 

That Abraham was looking for a heavenly city did not mean that he was not also looking for an earthly land. And his and his descendants' desire to be buried in the land speaks volumes to the significance of the promise to them and the way the understood it. So to set the land promises as over against heaven is, to my way of thinking, a false dichotomy. Both are certainly true and neither can be discarded or minimized. 

I don't know if you saw it earlier, but my comments about some thinking like Enns were discounted and I was accused by someone (I don't remember who) of calling people liberals. But when I posted Enns' comments, someone expressly said they agreed with him. I think that's a major problem for biblical studies. 

So in the end, I think this is both more complex and more simple than many are making it. But I continue to argue that we have either inspiration or the text as the basis for our authority (as Walton argues), and with the absence of the former, we have only the latter. 

I am reassured that the

I am reassured that the application of the grammatical-historical method is not controversial. The Scriptures should be preached—all of the Scriptures—in the broader as well as the narrower context. In part, what I mean by that is, as I have earlier demonstrated, the New Testament is as authoritative a source about Adam, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph and the events of their lives as the Old Testament. The actual text of Scripture is of utmost importance, yes, but also what can be concluded from the text of Scripture by good and necessary consequence. Otherwise, there would be no warrant for preaching but merely the public reading of Scripture.

In regard to the New Testament’s use of the Old, I agree with you that care must be taken. I also urge you to be careful of limiting your reading of the Old Testament without taking into careful consideration the New Testament, what the Old Testament says and does not say, and the implications thereof. For example, in Romans 9:24-26, Paul invokes Hosea to demonstrate that the offspring of Abraham entitled to the covenant promises made to Abraham are not only less inclusive than ethnic Israel but also more inclusive,

… even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, "Those who were not my people I will call 'my people,' and her who was not beloved I will call 'beloved.'" "And in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' there they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"

Was Paul here providing an actual interpretation of the meaning of Hosea 1:10 and 2:23? According to Geerhardus Vos,

The Israelites will become individually sons of Jehovah [[Hosea] 1.10]. This promise is applied by Peter and Paul [I Pet. 2.10; Rom. 9.25, 26] to the calling of the Gentiles, not, however, because Hosea was thing of that, but because the underlying principle was the same, and because the Gentiles had been organically incorporated into the covenant of Israel.

Biblical Theology: Old and New Testaments (The Banner of Truth Trust: Carlisle, Pennsylvania 1948, 1975), at 294. Although a mystery to most Jews, the Gentile inclusion was consistent with this principle set forth in Hosea and evidenced innumerable times in the text of the Old Testament by those who had an ear to hear.

In regard to the land, I have mentioned before that this land will literally be present in the New Creation, when the New Heavens and the New Earth come together as a result of the transformation of the Old. As Doug Wilson says, “Heaven is Not My Home, I’m Just a-Passin’ Through.” This will be a literal earth, a “heavenly earth,” a land truly worthy of the Old Testament prophecies of the land promise. That Abraham and his descendants’ desired to be buried in the land speaks volumes of their understanding that they would enter this land through death and resurrection.

As recorded in Genesis 17:8, God told Abraham, “And I will give to you and to your offspring after you the land of your sojournings, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession, and I will be their God." Abraham and his descendants died and were buried. How could this promise come true? Through death and resurrection; resurrection in incorruptible bodies into an incorruptible land. Their hope was not resurrection in fallen bodies into a sin wracked world. You may read the text of Scripture differently and draw different conclusions but this is a reading of the text of Scripture and a drawing of reasonable if not good and necessary conclusions therefrom.

JSB


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